Grief is something we all know we'll experience some time in our lives. However, it is unlike anything we could ever imagine when it happens to ourselves or our partners. Grief is all-encompassing. It wraps itself around our psyches like a fine mist, and our lives are changed forever.
Supporting a partner as they grieve is one of the hardest, most challenging and selfless things we may be called upon to do. Grief is achingly lonely, and a partner who is present and kind can literally be a lifesaver.
Here are some ways I’ve learnt through personal experience to help support a partner through their season of grief…
- Understand the grieving process
While it’s true that everyone experiences grief uniquely, I strongly suggest you read as much as you can about the grieving process. The more you know, the more you can support your partner. Grief affects our bodies, minds and spirits in ways we could often never imagine, so arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.
- Manage your expectations
As harsh as it sounds, this is not about you. You don’t get to decide how someone should or shouldn’t grieve, or for how long. Even if you’ve suffered a close loss yourself, this isn’t about you. Release all expectations of how this is or isn’t going to be. Again, educating yourself as much as possible can help you to manage your expectations.
- Show up
There will be some brutal moments in your partner’s grieving journey, and it is imperative that you show up. Funerals, memorials, sorting through their loved one’s things, packing and moving a remaining family member…these are just a few examples of the practicalities and admin you may need to tackle. Your partner will need you most at these times, even if they don’t express it. Your absence can be devastating, so I implore you - do not let them down.
- Extend grace more than you thought humanly possible
Your partner will not be the same person you knew. They will experience mood swings – from tsunamis of grief to shutting down, regressing, and even becoming angry and lashing out or withdrawing. They may be irritable, irrational, rude and unable to think or express themselves clearly. Anxious, depressed, reckless, exhausted, overwhelmed and deeply emotional. It’s not personal, and I promise you - it’s not in their control. They are lost and afraid. Forgive them and shower them with grace.
- Help them practically
Grief is exhausting. Extreme fatigue and brain fog, coupled with a shattered nervous system, make everyday tasks overwhelming. Carry the load, or find someone to help. Anticipate their basic needs and take care of them. Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, household chores, taking care of children and pets, you name it. Do as much as you can without being asked, and you’ll support your partner enormously.
- Hold space for them to simply be
Listen if they want to talk, sit silently if they don’t. Give them the space to be with their pain. There is nothing to fix; death and grief aren’t ‘problems’ to be solved. Check in with them often, ask them how they feel and how you can be there for them. Grief doesn’t have a fixed timeline; you can’t ‘ride it out’. It’s messy and raw, and can change from day to day. Get comfortable with the discomfort.
- Build your support network
Your partner will temporarily lose the ability to be a partner to you, and you will feel the loss of the person and relationship you had. You will need support to get through this. Know what you need to stay present and kind, and protect those needs. Rest, eat well, stay healthy. Draw on your personal sources of strength, whether spiritual or in the form of trusted friends and family. It’s a marathon, and you need your strength.
- Give them time for self-care
Your partner needs to prioritise their self-care. Whether they need extra rest, solo walks in nature, therapy, time with loved ones, quiet moments, a retreat, a spa day, movement, or more time for creative pursuits, give them the time to do so.
- Have patience
The grief will integrate into your partner’s life and psyche. Grief doesn’t ever go away, but it does subside. Your partner will slowly reappear, albeit it changed and with more understanding of what life means to them. This is an opportunity for you to connect with your partner in a profound way. The insights and traits with which your partner will emerge through this experience are incredibly significant. Pay attention, be open, and in time, you’ll come to experience a deeper love and bond with them than ever before.
Witnessing someone we love grieve is painful, and we can feel a sense of helplessness and confusion. Being mindful will guide us to our best selves, so we can sit with our partners and hold their hands in the darkness until the light appears again.
By Samantha Reynolds
About the Author
Samantha Reynolds is a yoga teacher, vegan nutritionist and wellbeing coach. She is the founder of The Bliss Co, a company dedicated to helping you find your bliss.